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Eamon Ryan, the new Minister for Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, fell asleep in the Dáil last Thursday. The fact he fell asleep isn’t why I’m writing this article.
The real issue here is that once roused, he voted against a motion that would strengthen workers’ rights during Covid-19. The cruel irony is that as a Minister, Ryan earns over €100,000 a year.
What was the motion?
Put forward by Gary Gannon TD of the Social Democrats, the motion on employment rights covered a lot of areas, highlighting in particular: the need for a living wage, the increased casualisation of work and precarious employment, collective bargaining, and the lack of basic entitlements such as statutory leave.
Deputy Gannon called on the government to acknowledge that many essential workers during the pandemic are low earners or in precarious jobs, and as such “the Irish State owes a debt of gratitude to its workers”. Gannon also clarified however that basic rights should not be doled out in gratitude – they should be a given.
A task force was suggested, whose purpose would be to ensure that protecting workers’ rights and creating good jobs became an area of focus within government, taking into consideration access to jobs, security of tenure, decent working conditions and a decent income, and more. Gannon also suggested that this should be reflected in public policy.
Let’s look North
In January of this year, the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal was published by Ireland’s then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney, and former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.
This cross-party deal led to the restoration of power-sharing at Stormont after a three-year hiatus following the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.
Gannon says that the language in this motion is almost identical to the language used in the NDNA agreement, with the hope that those both north and south of the border can be afforded the same rights in the workplace.
In response to the motion Deputy Robert Troy, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, stated that the government was committed to moving towards a living wage, but the pandemic has caused immediate challenges for industries hard-hit by the pandemic such as hospitality, tourism, and retail – where many workers are on a low wage.
The priority now is to restore employment, “before we make greater strides for the benefit of our workforce”, he says.
The July stimulus, which will be signed by the Cabinet on Monday, will aim to defibrillate the economy after four months of near dormancy.
To put this into perspective, the pre-Covid unemployment rate was 4.8%. In April, it reached a record-breaking 28.2%.
Phase four, which would have seen pubs, nightclubs, and casinos open their doors has been postponed. The director of the national virus laboratory, Dr Cillian De Gascun has warned that if cases rise above 100 per day once again, we could return to phase two.
It’s an anxious time for everyone.
The living wage
According to LivingWage.ie, the living wage in Ireland would stand at €12.30 per hour – €2.20 more than the current minimum wage of €10.10.
The website states that living wage would allow Irish adults to “afford a socially acceptable standard of living” and the ability to spend on needs – not wants.
The living wage differs from the minimum wage in that the living wage is based on the cost of living.
In fact, let’s jump into that for a second…
The cost of living in Ireland
According to Numbeo, a pint in Ireland costs €5, a cappuccino will set you back €3.14, and on average utility bills come to €145.58 monthly. The data on this website is however based on entries made by contributors, so the estimates should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The largest bill for many however is maintaining the roof over their head.
Near prison cell sized rooms advertised in Dublin again.
€1,000 a month for a 12sq m room. Apparently it's "especially spacious". A Mountjoy prison cell is 8 sq m.
— Paul O'Donoghue (@paulodonoghue93) July 17, 2020
The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice outlines that rent now accounts for a little over half (51.9%) of a single person’s minimum living costs in Dublin.
Nationally, the average sale price for a house is €254,000 – whilst the average rent is €1,402 per month according to Daft.ie’s Housing Market Report for June 2020. If we focus in on Dublin however, the average sale price for a house is €369,000 whilst the average rent per month is €2,023.
Approximately 122,800 people reported that they earned minimum wage or less at the end of 2019.
How is it achievable to get on the rental ladder, never mind the housing ladder, on the current minimum wage?
So back to the motion in question. Who voted? The motion was defeated 84 to 58. In my opinion, instead of clapping for essential workers – appreciation should be reflected in their pay packet. They’re tired too.
A version of this story originally appeared here.